"There’s an air of maturity that sets this season apart from the show’s previous ones," says Michael Blackmon. "While there are moments of raunchiness that fans will surely appreciate, the series has toned down some of its more explicit sex scenes, opting for more heart and emotional awareness, the writers fleshing out beloved primary and secondary characters in ways that feel natural. The end result is a season that is affirming, inclusive, relatable, and smart." Blackmon adds: "Impressively, the series tackles a swath of hefty topics this season, providing each with enough room to breathe, adequately addressing them in a manner that feels sufficient. Jean (Gillian Anderson) grapples with unsolicited opinions about her geriatric pregnancy. In addition to her still-gestating bundle of joy, Jean agonizes over telling her most recent sexual partner Jakob (Mikael Persbrandt) that he is likely the father, after breaking his heart last season when she kissed her ex-husband. Jean and Jakob epitomize the messiness of older adults who have unconventional approaches to romantic life. The never-ending will-they/won’t-they saga between Otis and Maeve (Emma Mackey) reaches new heights, but not without a few frustrations. But the best episode this season, hands down, focuses on Gatwa’s Eric Effiong as he travels with his family to Nigeria for a wedding. Over the course of three seasons, Eric went from a closeted Black boy who guarded the most radiant parts of himself, largely from his family, for his own safety to one of the most fearless characters in the series. In Season 3, he basks in the comfort of being out to his immediate family, as well as a blossoming though sometimes embarrassing relationship with his boyfriend, Adam. Adam has hang-ups about his own sexuality (he’s not out to his mother or father), most of which are normal and make sense because he’s not as far along in his journey as Eric."
Sex Education continues to shine amid other downbeat teen shows: "There’s a lot of darkness in high school TV right now. Shows like Euphoria, Riverdale, and now the Gossip Girl reboot are filled with fashionable teenagers who just can’t get away from local murders and scandals," says Leila Jordan. "In this modern landscape, Sex Education shines in not just its colorful design but its joyous take on high school angst. Yes, being a teenager sucks in Season 3 of the Netflix series. But can’t it also be funny, endearing, confusing, and above all fun? After dropping its initial sex clinic premise in Season 2, Season 3 of Sex Education dives straight into the lives and relationships of its central characters. They no longer need reasons to see and interact with each other now that they’re bonded together. But this bond is tested by new headteacher Hope Haddon (Jemima Kirke), a woman with a cool girlboss shell hiding an unwavering and regressive agenda. The season gets off to a rocky start, relying on some well-worn high school dating tropes to fill the gap left by the sex clinic. But from Episode 3 onward, the show finds its voice by digging into the messy lives of its central characters."
Sex Education's long pandemic delay seems to have given creator Laurie Nunn the time to recalibrate a bit: "Season Three still has plenty of breakups, hookups, and other relationship turmoil," says Alan Sepinwall. "And Otis for the most part remains out of the bootleg sex-therapy business, fearing he has hurt too many people in the past to be offering anyone advice. But these new episodes manage to talk about sex early and often, taking advantage of what’s turned out to be a deep and versatile young ensemble to cover the subject, even while Otis and/or Maeve are dwelling on other problems...The season also lives up to that opening montage by continuing to explore a variety of identities and experiences related to sex and/or gender. Jackson develops a crush on Cal (Dua Saleh), a new student from America who is nonbinary, and it’s smartly established that Cal isn’t the only nonbinary member of the class, so that they don’t have to represent an entire community. Isaac has a spinal cord injury and uses a wheelchair, and one subplot explores what does and doesn’t work for him sexually. Maeve’s best friend Aimee (Aimee Lou Wood), still dealing with being assaulted by a stranger last season, gets a lesson from Jean in the wide varieties of vulvas, while Otis’ best friend Eric (Ncuti Gatwa) and his boyfriend Adam (Connor Swindells) have to figure out who’s the top and who’s the bottom as their relationship grows deeper. All of it is handled with an impressive blend of sensitivity and humor."
Characters come into their own in Season 3: "Sex Education has always been exemplary at developing its ensemble's intertwined arcs, with love and attention to spare for every character," says Proma Khosla. "This season is no exception — it doesn't abandon Aimee (Aimee Lou Wood) after her Season 2 assault, and invites us to the inner world of Lily (Tanya Reynolds) instead of casting her aside as the token weirdo. A school trip without Eric forces Otis and Ruby (Mimi Keene) to face their history and Adam and Rahim (Sam Outalbali) to form a begrudging and intriguing bond. Everyone is learning and growing and loving and hurting and (sometimes) having sex, which is no more shameful than the rest of it, all perfectly packaged with a dynamite soundtrack and inspired direction."
There are too many characters and too little time in Season 3: "By presenting so many different, equally important, storylines, none of them land as well as they should," says Ella Kemp. "Lily 'shuts off' for an episode but nobody dares mention depression, Jackson has 'a dizzy spell' and his anxiety – clearly getting worse since season one – is brushed over. Eric goes to Nigeria while another character struggles with IVF, yet both of these compelling storylines are neglected. Without the clinic, too, Sex Education spends less time on, well, sex education. One student asks a school nurse what to do when her boyfriend refuses to wear a condom, yet that issue is resolved before there’s time to realise just how damaging that can be."
Sex Education works when performing the unexpected: "That’s the series’ throughline: Sex being increasingly verboten in media over the years since its premiere, focusing on the ins and outs of doing the in-’n-out feels practically daring, particularly couched in the lives of kids," says Andrew Crump. "Who needs comfort in sexuality more than kids? The adults have their share of neuroses, too, but those have to do with commitment; Jean, for instance, is reticent to let her ex, Jakob (Mikael Persbrandt), know that she’s carrying their child. It’s Otis’ classmates who desperately need counsel on sex and relationships, including platonic relationships. Friendship is key, too. For all the bubbliness baked into “Sex Education's sexual awakenings, there’s bitterness, too. (Creator Laurie Nunn’s) DP, Oli Russell, quietly shoots actors at the edge of the frame, shadowed by dead space, emphasizing how lonely it is to feel misunderstood, unsupported, or just plain old bewildered by changes in body, mind, and status. It’s lonely being an authority, too, at least for Otis: The new headmaster, Hope (Jemima Kirke), isn’t filmed with the same austerity as the rest of the cast, probably because she’s too eager to put her stamp on Moordale and keeps finding solutions to non-problems that, piling one on top of the other, look awfully stodgy and dictatorial. Watching Kirke adapt her typically bohemian stance into sterner material is surprisingly fun; she’s still easygoing, but that easygoing quality tastes venomous. Hope sucks. A KRS-One needle drop ('Sound of da Police') confirms it if her actions don’t."
Nunn recounts the emotional Season 2 scene she had to write alone to face being a sexual assault victim: “It was quite a personal story for me,” Nunn said. “I had experienced a sexual assault on a local bus a few years before running that writers room, and I knew this was something I wanted to process in a cathartic way through writing.” Nunn adds: "It was written in the script that the last shot was Aimee’s face, and the line was something like, ‘She looks like she’s almost in tears. She’s still feeling terrible, but she also knows she’s going to be OK.' This is still a very raw and vulnerable and quite a sad moment, but she is going to move forward. And I think having the girls in that line ... feels like such a strong image to get that feeling across.”